NEW YORK: Wikipedia will not be making any policy adjustments in the wake of Microsoft's attempt to pay an expert to edit pages about the company's products, according to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
The controversy began last week, when it was revealed that Microsoft had offered to pay Rick Jelliffe, an outside expert, to make changes to Wikipedia entries about Microsoft's OpenDocument Format and Office Open XML. The company said that the entries were biased against Microsoft. Jelliffe posted information on his blog about the financial arrangement. When the word got out, the blogosphere exploded with denunciations of Microsoft's conduct. The story was picked up by media outlets nationwide, resulting in a firestorm of controversy for Microsoft just as it was preparing to debut its highly anticipated Vista software.
Doug Mahugh, a Microsoft "technical evangelist," acknowledged in a blog post that he had contacted Jelliffe and asked him to correct "slanted" language in the Wikipedia entries. Mahugh also said that it was his decision alone to make the offer, and that the company's PR department was not involved.
Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft's PR agency, said that no company spokesperson was available to discuss the issue. But a statement released earlier, attributed to a Microsoft spokesperson, stated that no money had actually changed hands, and the changes were rendered moot after the public outcry arose.
Although the incident was generally portrayed as a serious ethical misstep by Microsoft, some in the blogosphere used the ensuing publicity to call for changes to a Wikipedia policy that prohibits anyone with a "conflict of interest," such as PR firms and other paid employees, from editing articles about which they are not considered to have a neutral viewpoint.
But founder Jimmy Wales told PRWeek that such changes are not in store.
"I think that argument is completely morally bankrupt, and I think people know that when they make it," he said. "There's a very big difference between having a sincere, passionate interest in a topic, and being a paid shill...Particularly for PR firms, it's something they should really very strongly avoid: ever touching an article."
Instead, he said interested parties should use a Wikipedia "talk page" to submit their arguments for edits.
Nevertheless, Wales said he is "totally unconcerned" with the Microsoft issue.
"I saw Bill Gates at a party the other night, and we both laughed about how much of a big deal the media's making out of something that's really nothing," he said.